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October 18, 2019

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Chinese and Serbian police act as ambassadors of friendship

Serbian and Chinese police officers have recently conducted joint police patrols in Serbia, a Balkan country best known in China for the current world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic and the former Yugoslav war movie classic, “Walter Defends Sarajevo.”

This pilot project involved several tourist frequented locations in the Serbian capital, the ancient city of Belgrade, as well as in the towns of Novi Sad and Smederevo. The cooperation is a very visible manifestation of the much deeper links connecting the two countries.

Since 2009, when China and Serbia officially became strategic partners, relations between the two countries have steadily advanced, both bilaterally and multilaterally, primarily owing to the Mechanism of Cooperation between China and the Central and Eastern European Countries (the so-called “17+1” Mechanism) instituted in 2012.

In addition, the persistent mutual political support which existed since the time of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, and the Serbian support for the “One-China” policy, along with the Chinese support for the preservation of Serbian national interests, primarily those related to the status of Kosovo and Metohija, has steadily consolidated the relations between the two countries, until they reached the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016.

This adamant, time-tested friendship between the two peoples and the comprehensive, long-standing co-operation have played a very positive role in consolidating Chinese co-operation with other Balkans countries (Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania), which all recognized China as a major international actor in the 21st century, and a leading net capital exporter within “the Belt and Road” initiative, proposed in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Cooperation in infrastructure

Good political relations between the two countries have opened the door to strengthening their economic relations.

In recent years, Serbia has become a “bridge,” facilitating direct Chinese investments to Central and Eastern European countries. So far, Serbia has already drawn US$6 billion from the China-Central and Eastern Europe Investment Cooperation Fund established under the “17+1” Mechanism, with a tendency to reach a sum of US$10 billion once all the launched projects are carried out. Chinese companies have built highways, railways, bridges in Serbia, as well as massive energy blocks and other infrastructure facilities, factories and large technology and industrial parks.

They also feature as investment partners in strategically important Serbian companies, such as the Steel Mill “Smederevo” and the Copper Mining and Smelter Complex, the RTB Bor. It is very telling that the Infrastructure Projects Secretariat within “17+1” Mechanism is located in Serbia, and so are the Western Balkans headquarters of the Chinese company Huawei. Huawei is currently engaged in the digitalized transformation of Serbia, working on improving the IT and telecommunications infrastructure (establishment of 5G network, smart city development projects, etc.).

Viewed from this perspective, cooperation between the Chinese and Serbian police officers is only an upgrade of the already highly fruitful relations between the two countries.

In May 2019, the Ministry of Public Security of the PRC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding enabling six Chinese police officers to come to Serbia and provide support to the Chinese citizens, primarily businessmen and tourists, whose numbers have been steadily increasing since the introduction of the mutual visa-free regime in 2017. Specifically, compared to 2016, when there were 20,000 Chinese citizens in Serbia, the number was doubled in 2017, and then increased to 100,000 in 2018. By July 2019, this number grew to 120,000.

Serbia is an attractive destination for investment for the Chinese people because of its favorable geographical position, linking up Greece, where China already participated in the development of the Piraeus port, with Central and Western Europe. Serbia also has direct and privileged access to the entire EU and Russian markets, lower taxes, abundant qualified low-income labor, and the option of securing state guarantees and preferential loans, which the EU member countries are unable to offer. Serbia is also highly interesting as an introduction and a preparatory field, where the Chinese companies can gain experience in operating in line with the European standards, but without a tougher EU competition, or a stronger regulatory pressure.

Joint police patrols are not novel considering that they have been successfully operating for several years now in Italy and Croatia, where Chinese police officers have also been involved in assisting their citizens during the tourist season. In Serbia, these joint Serbian-Chinese police patrols were deployed in three cities, where there is greater need for them: Belgrade, Novi Sad and Smederevo, where in 2017 the Chinese company Hesteel became the owner of the Steel Mill Smederevo.

Joint patrols

Since the beginning of this pilot project on September 18, two joint patrols comprising four police officers (two Serbian and two Chinese nationals) had been conducted in Belgrade in several locations: Nikola Tesla Airport, the Kalemegdan fortress, the Knez Mihajlova pedestrian street and zone, and in Block 70, an apartment block in Belgrade, all places with considerable Chinese presence.

One joint patrol was concuted in Novi Sad September 20-26, while the joint patrol in Smederevo lasted for only three days (September 28-30).

For the projects’ last phase, all six Chinese police officers and their Serbian counterparts patrolled in Belgrade (October 1-15). Chinese police officers were dressed in their uniform, but stripped of any police authority, and did not carry any means of coercion, given that their primary purpose is to assist the Serbian police officers in maintaining law and order, and providing better communicating with the Chinese citizens.

As part of this project, an emergency Chinese language hotline will help those who want to register to go on a tour of places where Chinese citizens concentrate, or visit locally operating Chinese companies and institutions.

The engagement of Chinese police officers, in accordance with the signed Memorandum, lasted only a month in total, from 18 September to 15 October 2019.

So far, reactions of both the Serbian citizens and the Chinese tourists have been very favorable and positive, though further joint cooperation will depend on the Serbian and Chinese authorities, and their assessments.

The writer is a Counsellor with the Government of the Republic of Serbia, and holds a scientific rank of Research Associate-Assistant Professor at Belgrade University. Her book “China in Europe,” both in Serbian and English, was published in late 2018.


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